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Friday, 26 November, 1999, 22:32 GMT
Sudan peace deal struck
guerrillas - sudan Sudan has been at war for 16 years

By Africa correspondent Caroline Hawley

The Sudanese Government has signed an accord with one of the country's key opposition groups.

The opposition Umma party said the accord called for the establishment of a democratic federal system of government in Khartoum and for a referendum on self-determination for the south of the country.

The agreement was finalised in Djibouti, where East African leaders have been meeting to discuss the long-running war, as well as the conflict in Somalia.

It comes just a day after Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir met Umma leader Sadiq al-Mahdi whom he ousted as prime minister a decade ago.

SPLA fighters - sudan Opposition SPLA fighters fear power games
It was the first meeting between the two men since Mr al-Mahdi fled into exile some three years ago. He is a key member of the NDA, a grouping of both Northern and Southern opposition groups who came together to try to topple the Sudanese government.

The agreement his party has signed comes as Libya and Egypt attempt to arrange a dialogue on national reconciliation.

Political prisoners

The Sudanese government has recently made several conciliatory gestures to the opposition; it has just pledged to return land confiscated from opposition leaders, including Mr al-Mahdi, and to release political prisoners.

Now comes a separate agreement with the Ummah party. Mr al-Mahdi says it will pave the way towards a comprehensive settlement to the Sudanese conflict, in which about two million people have lost their lives.

But it may well deepen the divisions within the shaky opposition alliance. There's suspicion of Mr al-Mahdi's intentions within the NDA, particularly among its main fighting force, the Southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) group.

Some fear he may be trying to strike a deal that would allow him to return to a position of power in Sudan while enabling Khartoum to improve its international image.

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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  Africa
Starvation warning as Sudan bans flights
14 Jul 99 |  Africa
Sudan - one year after the famine
21 Feb 99 |  Analysis
Sudan: a political and military history
11 Dec 98 |  Africa
Millions dead in Sudan civil war
15 Jan 99 |  Africa
Sudan ceasefire extended
27 Oct 98 |  Africa
UN told to push for end to Sudan's war

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